Art for Health Program at Stanford Hospital Helps Patients Tap Into Creativity, Alleviate Stress
To visit Erica Arcia in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit, you first have to don a sterile gown and mask. Then you step through one door, making sure that it seals behind you. Step through the second door of the isolation room and you're standing at Arcia's bedside.
Beyond her bed, past the IV drips and monitors, a Scratch-Lite, or decorated sheet of black paper, hangs in the window. Sunlight streams through the curlicue designs Arcia has scratched out and illuminates three handwritten words: Love. Hope. Courage. "I've never been into art that much," Arcia said on a recent morning. "That's why I love the program so much, because it brings out a lot of things in yourself that you don't think you have."
Arcia was talking about Art for Health, a donor-funded program that is part of Guest Services at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. With its support, she not only did the work hanging in her window, but other projects as well. When art facilitator Trish McDonald held up one of Arcia's watercolor paintings, Arcia beamed. "I painted that not too long ago, when I was starting to feel like I was in a better place," Arcia, a 28-year-old mother of three, said about the mountain landscape. "I call it 'Clear Path,' because I was starting to see my way through everything."
Monday through Saturday, McDonald and facilitators Nili Helman-Caspi and Michael Smit, along with volunteers Priya Handa and Hyuna Lee, push their crayon- and pastel-laden "art carts" up and down hospital hallways, to visit patients on every nursing floor. They respond to requests made by patients, family members, nurses, chaplains and physicians. They also knock on doors spontaneously, to see if anyone wants to try his hand at gouache, or opaque watercolor, creations. Or they offer up oval, square and hexagonal boxes for decorating.
"We might say, 'If you have a wish, a thought, a fear, just put it in the box and close it up,' " said Linh Dang, arts program coordinator for SHC.
Another favorite project is painting papier-mache masks. "Because of their illnesses, patients are often pale and no longer feel beautiful," Dang added. "The masks help them reshape what they want to look like—help them see that they are indeed beautiful."
Every six months, Dang selects patient artworks to display in a hallway near the G-1 nursing unit. One work currently on view was painted by a woman who had a difficult pregnancy and spent several months in the hospital, uncertain whether she or her baby would survive. With bold primary colors, she painted a futuristic rendering of her husband and child splashing through raindrops in slickers and boots. Today the whole family is well and happy.
In another drawing, done with ink markers and colored pencils, a rooster proudly puffs out his chest. The patient-artist, recalling his childhood on a farm in Mexico, declared that he was going to be as stubborn as a rooster in his fight against cancer. Months after his hospitalization, he was pronounced cancer-free.
In January, 12 patients' artwork and their accompanying stories will be reproduced in a box of note cards available for sale at the hospital's gift shop. All proceeds will help to continue funding the program.
"There's a lot of anxiety, fear and stress about disease, and we're putting patients through chemo and lots of things that can cause pain," nurse manager Trish Jenkins said about the program's broad-brush effect. "Art for Health is wonderful because it helps to distract them—helps them focus on something different, and it gives them some hope."
Or, as Arcia put it in her Scratch-Lite artwork: Love. Hope. Courage.
About Stanford Health Care
Stanford Health Care, located in Palo Alto, California with multiple facilities throughout the region, is internationally renowned for leading edge and coordinated care in cancer, neurosciences, cardiovascular medicine, surgery, organ transplant, medicine specialties and primary care. Stanford Health Care is part of Stanford Medicine, which includes Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and the Stanford University School of Medicine. Throughout its history, Stanford has been at the forefront of discovery and innovation, as researchers and clinicians work together to improve health, alleviate suffering, and translate medical breakthroughs into better ways to deliver patient care. Stanford Health Care: Healing humanity through science and compassion, one patient at a time. For more information, visit: StanfordHospital.org.